Acting as your own attorney? Bad Idea!

Self-Represented Defendants Acting as Their Own Attorney Is a Very Bad Idea

Self-represented defendants acting as their own attorney are sometimes too intelligent to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

 A self-represented defendant acting as his own attorney must follow the proper federal court rules and procedures when responding to federal injunctions or end up on the wrong end of a default judgment.

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was an Austrian psychoanalyst and one of the most radical thinkers in the history of psychiatry. He was a student of Sigmund Freud and a 19th century mind who came creatively crashing into the 20th century with dramatic results. Reich advocated for sexual liberty and sexual healing and as a result he ran afoul of the moral constraints of his time in both Europe and America. During the turmoil of World War II Reich came to New York and had his brilliant career cut short when he foolishly decided to go up against the federal government as a self-represented defendant. Reich died in prison because he arrogantly allowed a U.S. District Court injunction to be entered against him by default. Acting as your own attorney is a bad idea if you are not going to educate yourself and play by the rules. 

The Courts Do Not Give Special Breaks to Defendants Acting as Their Own Attorney

Reich decided to act as his own attorney an wrote the judge a letter instead of responding with an answer or other legally permissible pleading format. All Reich needed to do was conduct a little legal research at his local law library. Today all you need to do as a self-represented defendant acting as your own attorney is have a registered legal document assistant or certified contract paralegal properly format your answers and responses in order to comply with state and federal codes of civil procedure. Your answers must be properly filed at court and served upon the other party. Use a letter to the judge, go to prison . . .

A Genius at Psychiatry and a Novice at Acting as His Own Attorney

COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTION by FDA Feb 10, 1954 -part1 – – USA vs WILHELM REICH 1954-1957

Reich mainly supported himself as a medical doctor and professor at various New York hospitals and universities. Reich’s well-heeled supporters had also been funding his work by purchasing him homes and paying for staff and equipment. When the feds began prosecuting Reich his supporters offered to pay for top New York attorneys to represent him. A lawyer informed Reich the the injunction could easily be legally disposed of. However Reich erroneously believed that properly responding to the injunction would be submitting to the court’s jurisdiction and so he wrote a lengthy letter to the judge as a self-represented criminal defendant. Reich could have easily opened up any law book for the proper form of a general denial to the complaint. Just because you answer a complaint does not mean you admit anything. Reich needed to get a proper response on file to prevent entry of his default. Reich failed to properly answer the injunction. Reich went pro per with disastrous results.

 Wilhelm Reich’s RESPONSE to FDA’s Complaint for Injunction February 22-25, 1954 – USA vs WILHELM REICH 1954-1957

 Only a Self-Represented Defendant Acting as His Own Attorney Gets a Default Judgment Entered Against Him

 Injunctions are rather extraordinary measures seldom granted by the courts. Reich had too much at stake to self-represent himself in pro per. Reich’s decision to respond as self-represented was wrong. Dead wrong. The court issued a default judgment and decree of injunction order against him. Reich, psychiatry, and the entire world all lost out due to Reich’s hubris. Too bad independent contract paralegals did not exist back in those days. I get clients like Reich all the time. They call me up and say: I know what I want to say and I need a paralegal to put it into the proper format. Reich sincerely believed he could convince the judge that he was right. Reich was too intelligent for his own good. He kind of reminds me of myself in that regard.

From Wikipedia:

Reich refused to appear in court, arguing that no court was in a position to evaluate his work. In a long letter to Judge Clifford, he wrote:

“My factual position in the case as well as in the world of science of today does not permit me to enter the case against the Food and Drug Administration, since such action would, in my mind, imply admission of the authority of this special branch of the government to pass judgment on primordial, pre-atomic cosmic orgone energy. I, therefore, rest the case in full confidence in your hands.”

Sharaf 1994, p. 458ff; “Decree of Injunction Order”, 19 March 1954, USA v. Wilhelm Reich, 1954–1957.


As a result of the federal court order Reich’s books and inventions were burned in a New York incinerator and Reich had to pay for the costs of the destruction of his own life’s work. Later on a graduate student accidentally moved some of Reich’s inventions and shipped parts to an undercover FDA investigator. As a result of contempt of court for violating the injunction order Reich was sent to the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg. Several days before his parole hearing and release in November of 1957 Reich died in his prison cell at age 60 of heart failure.

Do Not Fight the U.S. Government as a Self-Represented Defendant


Dr. Reich had many legal options. He had a large circle of friends and supporters in New York who advised him to use a good lawyer. Reich should never have gone up against the federal government as self-represented. Reich should have at least found a criminal paralegal or legal document assistant to help him. Reich was intelligent enough to sit down with a law book and the FRCP to format his legal papers. If you don’t want to use a lawyer or paralegal, at least go to the local law library to research your available legal options.


Today’s Self-Represented Civil and Criminal Defendants Have Online Options When Self Represented


Today there are much more legal options available to self-represented defendants acting as their own attorney than there were in Reich’s time and place. The Internet has made correct civil legal procedure and case briefs for self-represented litigants. There are plenty of samples of the proper pleading format for an answer to a federal complaint or injunction online. A federal complaint must be answered line by line in the proper format.Lawyer, paralegal or online? Whatever you choose make sure you do it right. Do you really have the time to learn how to be your own lawyer or a paralegal? I makes much more sense to at least consult with a legal professional before you jump into battle against a legal opponent who may be well-represented by a big downtown Los Angeles law firm. Are you self-represented or self-destructive? A self-represented defendant must always follow the FRCP Rule 12(b) for answering a complaint. Fail to follow the court rules and you could end up wrong, dead wrong in a prison cell like the brilliant Dr. Wilhelm Reich.